Airbnb Bill Ignites Debate Between Old Regulations and New Economies

The general assembly is grappling with a bill intended to tax and regulate short-term rental companies, such as Airbnb, in a manner similar to that of traditional hotels and bed and breakfasts.

This bill is but one of many that lawmakers across the nation are considering that challenge whether old regulations can be imposed on businesses within the burgeoning sharing economy or whether new approaches are necessary.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

As state lawmakers debate how to regulate short-term rentals, the mismatched portraits underscore one of the challenges that regulators face: how to make the old tools, long used to regulate traditional enterprises, fit new business models.

Maryland lawmakers have passed bills in recent years to clarify rules for online travel sites and the rideshare app Uber. They’re looking at Airbnb and a more aggressive online sales tax collection this year. The state’s Office of Food Protection is looking into questions around new meal and food delivery services. Federal authorities are studying online lending.

Airbnb, like Uber and other firms in the so-called sharing economy, is powered by a shifting crowd of independent contractors, such as the people who testified last week. They use online platforms to connect to consumers — in the case of Airbnb, travelers looking for accommodations — and the corporation takes a piece of any transaction.

Michael Sanderson, the executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, sees the back-and-forth over Airbnb in the tradition of wrangling over corporate regulations to keep up with technology.

But he said the dynamics of Uber and Airbnb — which have not been shy about mobilizing users to their side — have changed the flavor of debates.

Earlier changes were “sort of corporate versus corporate,” he said. “A lot of this is individual- and small-business- and citizen-driven.”

MACo supported the bill in question, SB 463, with amendments. Counties support reasonable regulation of short-term rentals in the interest of protecting the safety and welfare of their communities. However, they also wish to ensure that any regulatory scheme is developed without unintended consequences that may undermine the benefits and prevent the industry from continuing to thrive.

For more information read the full article in The Baltimore Sun